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In Praise of Aesthetics over Philosophy? The Metaphors of Projection

Dreaming Up The “Insides” of Objects

Steve Shaviro has a post up in praise of Harman’s use of aesthetics (metaphors and whatnot) over philosophy, offered in the wake of his recent criticism of Harman’s philosophy: Object Oriented Aesthetics?. I posted a comment on Harman’s creative insertion of human experiences into objects as an explanation for what causation is, and it grew to a length substantive enough to post here.  I’ve written on the problem of Harman’s theory of causation in the past: Vicarious Causation DiagrammedDownunder: Central Clarity Consciousness (CCC), The “sensuous vicar” of Causation and even treated the specific cultural and political problems of the Orientalism of his aesthetics: The White and the Colored In Heidegger (and Harman), The Allure of Graham Harman’s Orientalism and Flaubert, Binaries, Orientalism and Harman on the Exotic. But drawing the scope at its widest, the problem with Harman’s “aesthetic” solution to the question of causation is that he has just performed one great Anthropomorphic projection of human experiences into all objects in the name of some kind of “object-orientation”. He has, in short, turned objects into caricatures of human beings, and in so doing, not only reduced objects but also mischaracterized human beings. 

“While I would agree that the powers of the aesthetic judgment, the non-“content” weighing of complexity and balance which allow us to recognize a good metaphor or a funny joke, are an extremely useful tool if not our only tool forwards towards new knowledge, but this is not to say that our aesthetic projections INTO objects other than human, AS a theory is a meaningful way to go. When Harman projects intentional objects into dust balls and microwaves, and imagines that because human beings have mental pictures of how the world is (or some feature in it) ALL objects must, as a matter of logic, is straight out absurd (“vicarious causation”). But not only absurd, an outright anthropomorphization of the said objects that are supposed to get their rescue from the reported evils of correlationism. It might make a pretty hallucination that when my car window is crashed into by an errant baseball, or when a butterfly wing is torn off by a be-dumbed child, each receiving object is visited by a “sensuous vicar” that enters its inner realm and allures it into destruction, but this is sheer fantasy space.

When Harman puts aesthetics before philosophy in his thinking on causation, he is simply saying, Hey I don’t even have to make much sense, I can just dream up and project my inner processes (as I categorize them via Husserl) into every object and call it “object-orientation”. To my taste Whitehead does a bit of this, but to a much much lesser degree (thankfully). If indeed what makes Correlationism so bad is that it makes human knowledge the center of importances when thinking about the world (like upper-class aristocrats exploiting poor worker objects everywhere), spreading the fantasies of the human (“Hey, teardrops and microchips are just like us! They receive little sensuous visitors from the outside world.”) and introjecting them into the cores of objects isn’t the salve. Firstly, it simply transmutes the “rights” of our objects into fantasy zones of our own device. Secondly, it mistakes the very fundamental nature of what is human in the first place, imagining that human thought and interaction with the world is accomplished solely through the “sensuous vicars” of intentionality. It replicates an error to infinity. If there is going to be a real esteem for objects, a real ontology that tests the boundaries of the human, it will be one in which the operations of objects, their powers of action in the world, are those that defy our easy assumptions about ourselves, the stretch what we even mean by “human”. In such cases, in such an aesthetic, we discover ourselves to be objects capable of something more objectile than we ever thought. Otherwise we are just spreading the Myth of the Human everywhere, under the auspices of Philosophy, but with the freedoms of a fiction.”

I do feel that the powers of aesthetic judgment are core to human way-finding – it is key to my Chaoplexic approach – and even that much of what is most real in human political, legal and moral fields is accomplished through the organization of the affects, but philosophy is not art, for a reason.